Pellets made using methane-eating bacteria — methanotrophs — that are found naturally in soil and lakes can be converted into animal feed. These are fed with methane gas, which makes them grow and multiply into a protein-rich biomass that can be dried and turned into animal feed.
“It is essentially fermentation but with a twist of using methane as carbon source,” says Alan Shaw, chief executive of Calysta, a US-based company that is one of the pioneers of producing the methane-based protein.
Though a simple idea, the pellets are not easy to make. Henrik Busch-Larsen, chief executive of Unibio, a Danish company working on a similar meSthane-based animal feed, says: “It is a difficult reaction to control. You need to get as much methane gas as possible into the liquid that the bacteria are in.” The aim is for the bacteria to reproduce efficiently enough to make the process worthwhile. The technology has only recently reached the point where it can be commercialised.
Stable price of the alternate is making the new innovation more attractive to the farmers. Moreover, production of the protein uses little water and land, making it more sustainable than feeds such as fishmeal or soybeans.
Josh Silverman, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Calysta, says that, “this product, has no impact on the human food chain — the carbon is coming from outside the current food chain.”
It is possible that one day methane-based protein could be consumed directly by humans.